Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Skyfall Blu-Ray Review

Movie: 9/10

Wow, I didn't realise it's been 4 years since the last Bond film, Quantum of Solace. I'm completely aware that there's a significant audience who didn't like Bond's previous outing back in 2008, but for me, while I thought it was not a total disaster, it was not as great as I wanted it to be, especially in the shadow of its brilliant predecessor, Casino Royale. The action was certainly was as brutal as I expect from Bond's revenge for what happened at the end of the previous movie, but if only the plot had been more focused and gave more motivation why Bond wants to take down the person responsible.

Well, Skyfall forgoes the plot about stopping QUANTUM, and instead starts with Bond (Daniel Craig) chasing after an assassin Patrice (Ola Rapace), who has stolen the hard drive containing a list of all the covert agents MI6 has placed in terrorists organisations around the world. During the chase, Eve (Naomie Harris) hesitantly attempts to shoot Patrice, but M (Judi Dench) tells her to "take the bloody shoot", and she fires, but misses and hits Bond instead, and Bond is presumed dead.

But as you know, being 007, he survives and finds himself in a different MI6. M is being talked into retirement by a government bureaucrat named Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) Bond retakes his physical and field tests and barely passes (apparently), and before setting out to find Patrice again, meets the well-known Q (Ben Whishaw), or Quartermaster for the first time, and is given "a gun and a radio", and finds out that MI6 no longer go for exploding pens anymore (Sounds familiar?).

But of course all that chasing leads us to our main villain, Raul Silva (Jarvier Bardem), who plays a much more different villain that I expected from his role in No Country for Old Men. In contrast of a of a cold, heartless villain who never smiles in that film, we got a charming, attractive, and somewhat sadistically cheerful bad guy who even attempts to get Bond to see his point of view.

But the real heart of the story comes when the film explores the relationship between M and Bond, which begins to strain after M made that near-fatal call. Silva even starts to exploit that to get Bond to see that perhaps he thought he made his own choices, but actually M made him make them, and Silva is bent to make that bite on M's ass after M made a similar call that significantly made Silva bear a grudge against M. No Bond film has ever given much thought about the relationship between M and Bond other than M being the boss and 007 just following M's orders, and this film exploring this concept in depth makes it stand out from all the previous Bond films.

This all leads to a climax where Bond and M lures Silva and company into a deserted location for a final showdown. Now this is where I feel the film's pacing starts to feel a little slow and disconnected from the brilliant pacing in the first two-thirds of the film. It has this sort of "calm before the storm" feel that feels very different and slower than the rest of the film, though I suppose that's what director Sam Mendes wanted it to feel.

Overall I feel this is a Bond film that is bold enough to combine the old and the new. Its definitely less serious and gritty than Casino Royale and surprisingly more light hearted and humourous akin to the previous Bond films. It starts as what you think might be a typical Bond-stops-the-villain-from-taking-over-the-world plot, until you realise that Silva is only bent on one thing or person - M.

Video Quality: 10/10

Knowing that the brilliant cinematographer Roger Deakins was shooting this film, I went into this film thinking that it was shot on film. And while I was watching this film I was convinced that it was. But it came to my huge surprise that after doing a bit of research, it was actually shot digitally with 5K Arri Alexa cameras! I was more surprised because no film that was shot digitally in recent years convinced me that digital can look as good as, if not better than traditional film, not even Avatar or Avengers. Prometheus was the only movie that came close, but its probably because it was heavily colour-graded. Roger Deakins shoots Skyfall with terrific choice of lighting, focus, colour, etc. Even the first shot of the whole film, which starts with an off-focus silhouette of Bond, who then walks into focus which a small, dim beam of light just illuminating his eyes, shows how Roger can give a fresh and unique look to the Bond films. Another scene is where Bond fights Patrice in silhouette against a animated jellyfish signboard, which gives a noir-ish feel to the fight scene. That looks really well done! Even the weaker-looking shots of the film in the Scotland battle, which looks a little bit too under-lit, are quite grain free, a artifact commonly seen when shooting digitally in dark scenes. 

All of Roger's masterful cinematography are faithfully represented in this Blu-Ray transfer, which looks crisp and detailed directly from the digital master, though I reckon some hardcore videophiles who saw the digital IMAX version are going to be disappointed that it's presented in the cropped 2.40:1 ratio. I saw both the digital IMAX presentation and the theatrical 2.40:1 version, and while the IMAX version looks more immersive with its height, from what I saw the 2.40:1 version seems to have better composition and framing. Having said that, I would still hope for 20th Century Fox to release an IMAX Blu-Ray version so that we can also see the full frame that Roger shot on set.

Audio Quality: 10/10

Also equally impressive is the lossless DTS HD MA 5.1 Audio on this disc. This is a very dynamic and well mixed soundtrack, with crisp and clear dialogue, deep bass in the LFE channels and great use of the surround channels.

The opening chase scene in Istanbul is enough to demonstrate the audio's immersiveness, but even better is the train crash in the second half of the film, which can literally shake your living room with its deep bass if you have an appropriate subwoofer, and of course, the final battle in Scotland, where you can literally hear Silva's chopper fly across the room with bullets ricocheting everywhere.

Even the quiet scenes are given a nice touch, like after the apparently fatal shot on Bond, where the sound of the rain outside the building slowly transitions into the waterfall that Bond's body falls over, which slowly transitions into one of the best Bond songs in recent years, Skyfall by Adele.

Though as much as the film sounds great from a sound editing and mixing perspective, I gotta admit that I'm not the biggest fan of Thomas Newman's Oscar nominated score for this film. While it fits the action sequences and the quiet scenes perfectly, the action-oriented music didn't give that pulse-pounding tension that David Arnold's did in Casino Royale, but maybe that wasn't the point of the music score, seeing that this film is much more light hearted than Casino Royale. So it all comes down to personal taste, but for my money I prefer Casino Royale's soundtrack better for the action scenes.


Well, there are a couple of notable extras on this disc, mainly a commentary by director Sam Mendes and another by producer Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson with production designer Dennis Gassner. I haven't had the time to listen to them yet, but I've seen a bit of the behind-the-scenes documentary Shooting Bond. It may be interesting for some, but from what I saw its not as in-depth as I expected.

Overall: 9/10

Skyfall is one of the rare films in 2012 that excels both as a blockbuster as well as from an aesthetic point of view. Its also one of the best Bond film in years. While it may be highly debatable whether this film or Casino Royale is better, I think that each film has its own strengths. For me, Casino Royale has the more pulse pounding serious and gritty action scenes, and Skyfall works as a traditional Bond film that does some interesting things to the plot to prevent it from being like all the others. Despite having a little bit of underwhelming extras, with a great film like this combined with a stellar video and audio quality, this disc comes highly recommended!

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